Posts Tagged ‘England’

I recently learned about an artist who uses unique techniques and processes to create beautiful artworks. Tim Knowles is a UK artist who uses natural phenomenon like wind and terrain to create sketches and media installations.

“Tree Drawing – Hawthorn on Easel” by Tim Knowles

Myself, I have always been inspired by the idea of contact and touching; touching an item or standing in a place that someone else had touched or stood – I feel like that can give a powerful connection through time and space. It’s why I took the in-progress pieces of my Rainbow Warrior quilt to the Rainbow Warrior memorial in Matauri Bay and her masts in Dargaville. To know that my quilt – inspired by that ship, her crew and what she represents – has actually touched parts of the ship herself, has been out in the sunshine, sea air and
waving grass, makes the quilt all the more special to me. It feels imbued with the spirit of those places.

Largely through my studies at university the idea of agency has really taken hold inside me, as well. In humanities we use “agency” to describe the ability to act (independently), and you could say, to exert power; it’s the opposite of inert passivity. In particular the realisation that human animals are not the only ones who have agency really changed the way I think about many things. Nonhuman animals obviously (to me) have agency; a bird may choose
where to fly, what to eat, when to return home, how to react to situations she encounters. But it was also a realisation to me to think about the agency of other living things on the planet, like trees. A trees responds to the sun, to water and some have even been shown to “communicate” and share information about predators, etc.

The work of Tim Knowles’ that I have read about online really taps into this part of me that is aware of the world outside human control. (This is not to say that we cannot control it – we can and do. But when left alone, many other beings in the world are allowed to exert their own agency). Tim’s past works have included his “Windwalks”, drawings made by attaching a sail/windvane-like apparatus to his head and going for walks through early-morning London directed only by the changing winds and breezes. Afterwards GPS tracking was used to plot these journeys as prints that Colby Chamberlain describes as “a Surrealist experiment in automatic drawing”.

Tim Knowles’ “Windwalks – Five Walks From Charing Cross”

I really like the way Gabrielle Hoad describes Tim’s unique approach to his art

In the past, Tim Knowles has been a hands-off artist, setting in motion unpredictable mark-making processes. He’s allowed everything from helium balloons and trees to postal packages and cars to drawn their own movements: “making the invisible visible” as he puts it. There’s much to be said for John Cage’s view that the world is more fascinating when we let it be itself.

On Tim’s website there are images from many of his exhibitions, all with mysterious and exciting names like “Full Moon Reflections” (photographs of reflections of the full moon on different bodies of non-still water), “Windwalks” (prints delineating wind-directed walks as described above) and “Nightwalks” (photographs taken with a very long exposure as the artist walks away from the camera through the landscape carrying powerful torches which illuminate his path). What amazing ways of encountering the world and, in case of the walks, of portraying an individual’s attempt to literally make one’s way.

I found each of these ideas really exciting but the works which really drew me to Tim as an artist were his Tree Drawings – drawings not of trees, but by trees. In Cabinet magazine, Tim explains his execution of the prints:

I attach artists’ sketching pens to their branches and then place sheets of paper in such a way that the trees’ natural motions—as well as their moments of stillness—are recorded. Like signatures, each drawing reveals something about the different qualities and characteristics of the various trees as they sway in the breeze: the relaxed, fluid line of an oak; the delicate, tentative touch of a larch; a hawthorn’s stiff, slightly neurotic scratches.

I love the appreciation Tim has of the characteristics of each different tree. This appreciation really comes through in how the reality of their unique individuality is present in each artwork. Although Tim Knowles is the artist his role here is as a fascilitator for the expression of the wind and the branches.

I’ve never been to a Tim Knowles exhibition but I’ve seen online that each piece is presented as a “diptych” (a fancy way of saying two pieces of artwork together), the drawing itself together with a photograph of it being created. He even used a video of the work being created in one of his exhibitions, projected onto the wall next to the print itself. There’s a great video from MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) which has Tim Knowles talking about both the process of creating the Tree Drawings and the method of exhibition – watch it on YouTube. In the same article as above, Tim states

Process is key to my work, so each Tree Drawing is accompanied by a photograph or video documenting the location and manner of its creation.

I really think this is inspired. For me it presents two ways of seeing a single moment in time and forms a connection between different ways of experiencing. The author of a Saatchi Gallery online editorial sees in Tim’s Tree Drawings the accomplishment of a long-held goal in English artistic tradition. Of Tree Drawing – Scots Pine, Buttermere Shore #1 (2005), it notes

Given its Cumbrian context, the unforced lyricism of Knowles’s approach stands in ironic historical juxtaposition to the plein-air labours of English landscape painters, who for centuries have strived to capture the agitation of a swaying tree. Knowles achieves their long-held ambition by the simple fact of enabling the tree to record its own unrest.

The idea of “enabling” a tree is a beautiful one. I really adore the resulting works Tim has created. While these are my favourite of his pieces so far, it is fascinating to read about the ways in which he has created many other works with the use of all sorts of natural and human-made phenomena. I urge you to visit Tim’s site and look through his various artworks. For me the image of a tree drawing on an easel in particular is a very powerful one.

And if I ever get the chance to visit an exhibition of his, I shall jump at it.

“Oak on Easel #1” by Tim Knowles

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Today I saw a documentary about a creepy seventeenth century English witch trial in which a 9-year-old beggar girl testified against her mother, sister and brother, condemning them to execution. The girl’s name was Jennet Device*.


Image by artist Phoebe Boswell (from PhoebeBoswell.com)

The documentary by BBC Four is hosted by Simon Armitage, who tells the story with interjections from various historical experts and with the aid of very spooky, pale, spectral, sketchy animations of important scenes by Phoebe Boswell. For me, it is these which make the telling of the story so chilling, and definitely worth watching.

This is the story of Jennet Device, as I remember it.

Four hundred years ago a poor rural family lived together in their stone home called Malkin Towers; a grandmother, mother, a son and two daughters. The mother’s husband had died some years before and the youngest daughter, Jennet, was illegitimate. The grandmother, Elizabeth Southerns (known as “Old Demdike”), was a “cunning woman”, a woman with gifts in naturopathy and healing (different from a witch, who turns such gifts to curses and evil). One day Jennet’s sister, Alizon, begged a travelling peddler for some pins, but he ignored her. She cursed him and was terrified when soon after he fell prone, displaying symptoms of what we now would call a stroke. Alizon was overcome with guilt and remorse and went to his bedside to beg for forgiveness. However the peddler’s son accused her of witchcraft.


In 1612 James the First was the king of England. Intensely Protestant, he not only denounced Catholics and witches but was paranoid that both were out to get him. (As documentary host Armitage noted, being paranoid doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong. Case in point: Guy Fawkes’ Catholic plot to blow up the king and parliament). King James published his own book called Daemonologie instructing that witches and users of witchcraft must be prosecuted and punished. In 1612 he ordered every JP (Justice of the Peace; magistrate) in Lancashire to record the name of every person who didn’t attend communion. Roger Nowell was the JP for Pendle, and an over-zealous butt-kisser who sought the approval of the king.  It was to Nowell that the peddlar’s son made his accusation of Alizon’s witchcraft and she and her mother and brother were summoned to court. Ultimately it was Old Demdike, the grandmother, and three neighbours who were sent to gaol to be tried for witchcraft.

ImageThat year on Good Friday, the mother (also Elizabeth) held a meeting at Malkin Towers, a gathering for which son James stole a sheep to be roasted. Roger Nowell heard about the meeting and as a result of his investigation eight more people were sent to be tried for witchcraft, including Elizabeth and James Device.

It is interesting to realise that many of those accused of witchcraft believed themselves that they were witches. Many, like Old Demdike, had been openly practicing home remedies and charms for many years, sometimes for payment, while some like Alizon were wretched and distraught with guilt. Others accused, though, like the more well-to-do Alice Nutter (from a prominent Catholic family, two of whom had been executed for being Catholic priests), had nothing to do with witchcraft and were probably “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Note that in our story there has been no mention, yet, of Jennet Device.
But now we come to it.

Four months later the trial at the Lancaster Assizes took place in Lancaster Castle, a prison then and right up until 2010. The prosecution’s star witness was young Jennet Device, about nine years old. Although children that young weren’t usually allowed to appear as witnesses in court, King James wrote in his Daemonologie that children were acceptable witnesses in cases of treason or witchcraft. When she was brought into the court her mother went mad yelling and screaming at her (probably trying to make her understand what she was doing), and Jennet asked that she be removed.


In one of the spookiest scenes in the documentary, the small girl then got up on a table and gave evidence against her mother and sister. She told the court her mother was a witch and had brown dog named Ball as a familiar, who her spirit entered and who helped her commit murders. Her brother James also testified against his mother saying he’d seen her making clay figures, but Jennet said she had also seen his spirit moving about and had seen him conjure a black dog, his familiar called Dandy, and tell him to kill a man. Jennet Device also identified those who attended the gathering at Malkin Tower. In a very creepy scene in the documentary the spectre of the small girl walks along lineups of people produced by the court and picks out each one who was at Malkin Tower.

The hangings of the witches of Pendle

Of the ten found guilty, nine were held in a tiny cell with other inmates at Lancaster Gaol, where Old Demdike had already passed away. They were hanged on nearby Gallows Hill, probably with Jennet Device in attendance. Today the hill is a park and children’s playground.

Jennet Device’s testimony had wide and far-reaching consequences as her case became a precedent for using children as witnesses in cases of witchcraft, particularly through a book called Dalton’s Country Justice. This book was used by British magistrates as a handbook for applying the law in the UK and in the New World, and was used in the Salem witch trials eighty years after the Pendel witch trials; it cited the case of Jennet Device as precedent for seeking children as witnesses in cases of witchcraft.

Simon Armitage with Jennet

Simon Armitage with Jennet

So what happened to Jennet Device? Why did she do what she did? Was she resentful, as the bastard child, of the rest of her family and wanted revenge? Was she intimidated and afraid of the court and the judges and magistrates? Had she been schooled, in the months before the trial by Nowell? How did she live with herself afterwards and as she grew up?

Well. In a spectacular case of “tasting your own medicine”, twenty years later Jennet Device was caught up in another witch trial, this time with the star witness/accuser as a young boy, made possible by the precedent she herself set years earlier.

The young Edmund Robinson returned home late one evening. His excuse? (Phoebe Boswell’s illustrations of this are really great:) He had been picking berries when he saw two dogs sleeping. He tried to get them to chase a hare by hitting them with a stick, but they turned into a witch and a boy, and then the witch turned the boy into a horse and took Edmund away to a house full of witches, where ropes hung from the ceiling and when the witches pulled on them, wonderful food fell down. Edmund was afraid, so he escaped but on the way home he ran into a boy with cloven hoofs and they fought, which is why he was so scruffy when he got home.

Not only did people believe this story, but the boy’s father took him from village to village for three months identifying the witches he had seen. He would go into a church and stand on a stool or table and gaze into the congregation, picking out those who were witches.

One of those he selected was named Jennet Device.

Edmund had chosen twenty women, nineteen of whom were found guilty. However the times had changed and King James’ son, Charles the First, was more credulous of accusations of witchcraft. The matter was referred to the privy counsel in London, where the public could view four of the women in the gaol for a penny, and see a theatrical performance of The Witches of Lancashire, a play of Edmund’s story. The “devil’s mark” (where the devil had suckled) in the women’s “secrets” was examined by the king’s physician and they were found not guilty. Edmund admitting lying, basing his story on stories he’d heard of the Device family. His father had been blackmailing women, if they didn’t pay him he would tell Edmund to accuse them of witchcraft.

Despite their acquittal, the women remained in the Lancaster Gaol and probably died there.


* (her surname is pronounced “Dev-iss”).

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